Tirez sur le pianiste

Rewatched it recently and it was like seeing it for the first time. So fresh. They must’ve had some fun back then making movies, the nouvelle vague folk. It shines out of so many scenes in Shoot the Piano Player, a playful, open-ended, we-can-do-anything quality. This one had a lot of improvisation in it, apparently. They didn’t even know what the ending would be until it was time to shoot it.

One of my favorite scenes is near the very beginning. Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour), the eponymous piano player, has a brother, Chico, who is being chased by two men (we have no idea why yet). Chico runs into the bar where Charlie plays, to hide. They have a brief exchange but it is time for Charlie to start a new set. Suddenly we are thrown into a hilarious tune (suggestive and somewhat surreal) sung and I think written also by Boby Lapointe (who by that point was fairly well-known in France). The three musicians have fixed and completely contrasting facial expressions throughout the entire sequence–Charlie in hang-dog (Charlie’s in hang-dog the entire film…), Boby Lapointe intense, super-serious, bouncing from foot to foot, and the drummer grinning from ear to ear. For part of the scene you get the faces together in triptych. Brilliant.

I believe the budget for this movie was virtually nothing, but that meant Truffaut and Co. could do whatever they wanted, and it also meant location shooting on the streets in Paris, trusting in intuition, spontaneity. There is farce followed by real pathos and back to farce again, fun from the opening chase scene to that final, unforgettable shot of … (don’t want to give anything away) … rolling down the snow-covered slope.

And then there’s the single most famous image (and justly so). But I won’t try to explain it–you’ll just have to see the movie…